Monday, June 16, 2014

Most Magical Place On Earth

My first trip to a Disney park was before I was even born. My parents lived in southern California at the time, and while they only lived there a short time, they took advantage of the experience. They took me, in utero, to Disneyland. When I was six months old my parents took me back to Disneyland with my paternal grandparents and my two youngest aunts. I've been told I rode "it's a small world" with my grandparents over and over again to great delight. I do not remember the experience, but it's nice to know that I had the experience as an infant.

When I was nine, I traveled back to California with my parents and two younger sisters. We stayed with friends of  my parents and got to experience a lot of southern California, including Disneyland. I loved Disneyland. We did everything we could at the park. I wasn't brave enough to try "Space Mountain" and I freaked out when my mom tried to take us on the Snow White ride (even at nine I was still reeling from the psychological damage inflicted by being taken to see Snow White when I wasn't quite three) but I remember loving the "Mad Tea Party," being awed by the Michael Jackson 3-D spectacular "Captain EO," tolerating "it's a small world," getting jealous of my little sister who got to be a part of the parade and came home with her very own pair of Minnie Mouse ears, and somewhere in a box I still have the diary that I bought as a souvenir. But I also remember it as a great trip with my family.

When I was a sophomore in college our choir went on tour through the southeast, ending in Florida. The tour included one day off during which we got to pick a single Disney park. Having already been to Disneyland ten years before, I chose to go to MGM (now Hollywood Studios) and loved it. It was a great time with friends and I really didn't think that I missed out on much. After all, I got to participate in movie magic. I didn't need fantasy magic, did I?

Six years ago, when we were in the midst of infertility heartbreak, we vacationed in Orlando with my in-laws and I got to go to Magic Kingdom for the first time ever. It was during that trip that I became convinced that Walt Disney really did create the most magical place on Earth. I loved Magic Kingdom and looked forward to a day when I could take my children there, that is, if God ever blessed us with children. But I enjoyed the Magic Kingdom as an adult does. We rode the rides intended for adults (and some for children) and didn't pay much attention to the parades, shows, and character hot spots. It made for a simple one day trip and I had yet to understand the complex undertaking that it is to take children through Disney World.

Three years ago I was seven months pregnant, uncomfortable, a full-time grad student, a teaching assistant, and we were flat broke. When my husband came home to tell me that he had to attend a conference in Orlando, the place we had been intending on going for vacation seven months before when we didn't know I would be pregnant, I was somewhat crushed. I knew that we couldn't afford to fly me down and I had both classes to attend and classes to teach that week. But our almost two-year-old daughter could go with him and stay with my vacationing in-laws, and she could do it for free. It was a great opportunity for her, but it meant me missing her first trip to Disney. Daddy got to make her toddler dreams come true. I didn't. She doesn't remember the trip, but it doesn't change the fact that I missed it.

But this time I wasn't missing it. This year's spring break vacation to Orlando meant that I got to go with both of our kiddos to the Magic Kingdom, and since our daughter didn't remember her first trip, we treated it like it was the first time for both of them, starting at the ticket booth when we got their 1st Visit pins. In preparation for our visit to Disney, we went out the night before to Walmart to get both kids their own autograph books for any autographs that they might get while at the Magic Kingdom. That trip itself was an adventure with a very tired little boy throwing a tantrum in the store because we wouldn't get him the popsicles that he wanted. For the record, our son is usually sweet and relatively well behaved, but his tantrums are epic, eardrum shattering, events. We were more than happy to bring him back to the condo and put him in bed so that he could be well rested for our very full Disney day. He was asleep in minutes, but the fact that he was so tired before crashing into bed the night before a full day at the Magic Kingdom made me more than a little nervous.

We didn't quite get on the road at 8:30 like I had originally intended. My husband, still recovering from two days nearly completely out of commission (and we now know that he probably had strep), was not going that quickly and even though they were very excited, our children were also moving slowly out of the door. Thankfully, my in-laws came with us so they helped me by getting sunscreen on the kids (another potential battle), we packed up snacks, filled the Camel Paks, double checked to make sure we had everything we could possibly need, and packed up four adults and two kids into the car and towards Disney World. We were still early in the day, got into the closer lots, and took the tram from the ticket booths to the front gate. Just as we did at Legoland, we rented a double-stroller (OUCH$$$) and headed towards Main Street. Our first stop was just as we entered Main Street. A musical number was starting and the kids were mesmerized.

As we were leaving the performance L immediately asked for her autograph book. She wanted to record what she had seen and she especially mesmerized by the girl in the purple dress (her favorite color). She started drawing this:

Next we headed towards Adventureland but were stopped when we realized that "Dream Along With Mickey" was starting right in front of the castle. We stopped everything and got the kids close enough so they could both see. With the appearance of Minnie and the princesses Cinderella, Snow White, and Aurora, L was all set to get back to her drawing as she recorded everything she was seeing. She did inform my husband, however, that she had no interest in drawing Maleficent, the primary villain who showed up in the show. Below are pictures of both the show and her drawings:

Next was Adventureland. We rode on Grandpa's favorite ride, "Jungle Cruise," quickly got through the line for "The Magic Carpets of Aladdin" (E was a little upset that we got a purple magic carpet instead of a blue one, but he quickly got over it), and then headed towards "Pirates of the Caribbean." During a pre-ride pit stop, E caught sight of the pirate swords in the store and suddenly I didn't think we would get out of the store without buying one. I finally convinced him that we had to do the ride first and we were headed towards another fast moving line. I was beginning to feel invincible. We had waits, but they weren't that long and Disney lines are constantly moving, so even if it takes awhile I at least felt like we were getting somewhere. The kids were fascinated by everything that they saw along the way, but then we got to the ride. Having only gone on the ride once before, I forgot about the potential scary parts. You know, like the fact that it gets pitch dark and then drops a little before getting to the actual ride portion where you see the story of the pirates? Yeah, the kiddos got a little scared.

But our son was still mesmerized and spent forever at the gift shop searching for the perfect sword. He finally found it and it spent most of the day in his hands, usually out of the scabbard, and it was frequently used as either a comfort object for him or a tool of leverage for Mom and Dad.

From there we hit the "Swiss Family Treehouse" (so I guess now the kids have to see the movie) and then into Frontierland where we hit "Country Bear Jamboree" while deciding what to do for food. The kids LOVED the show (what kid doesn't love watching animatronic bears singing country songs) and by the time we headed out of the adjoining restaurant the "Festival of Fantasy" parade was about to begin. This time L got to see all of her favorite characters, including Anna and Elsa. This was important! We were not going to pay to go to Epcot just so that she could meet them in person (because like every little girl in the country she is obsessed with Frozen) so she at least got to see them. She waved to everyone, got to actually shake hands with Tiana, and when the parade was over and she could get out of the hot, blinding sun, she sat down to draw this:

With the exception of not meeting Aladdin and Jasmine, who were not in the parade, her day was now complete, and it wasn't even 3:30 yet. Since we were in close proximity, we headed to the "Haunted Mansion" next, which we think is hilarious but apparently our kids did not agree. Well, E really liked it until he discovered that his sister did NOT enjoy it and then he changed his mind. To get them excited again we headed straight for "it's a small world" and the parents survived the experience, especially since it brought back the smiles.

Then it was time to meet Aladdin and Jasmine. This was no small thing. When L first went to the Magic Kingdom three years ago she was obsessed the Beauty and the Beast, and primarily with Beast. Shortly after her return she became obsessed with Aladdin. The characters became her imaginary friends, her best friends. And while she has moved on to new things (Frozen being primary among those things) she still has a special place in her heart for Aladdin. When we got to the line we discovered that we had missed that timed meeting so we had to wait for the next meeting. She was devastated, but we promised we wouldn't leave until she got to meet them. So we waited another 30 minutes, got into line, and then discovered that Jasmine was off finding Rajah. Thankfully L still loves Aladdin, so she was fine with just meeting him. Then it was off to meet Merida, who WAS one of her favorite princesses until the introduction of Anna and Elsa. It turned out to be the last of her signatures, but it was still a fantastic experience for both kids. Merida took time to talk to both of them, L got to show her the pictures she had colored while waiting, and then they both got to learn how to shoot a bow and arrow. Merida was also gracious enough to listen to L talk about the awesomeness of Anna and Elsa. I'm sure the poor girl hears about them every day, but she was fantastic about it.

From there we wandered into Tomorrowland and enjoyed a short wait to get into the "Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor." It's fun for the kids and parents and is different every time. Then the "Tomorrowland Speedway," where we paired off to drive. My husband got to drive with L and I got to drive with E. It took one ride around the loop to convince me that I am not the one to teach our children how to drive. I got a glimpse into my future if I do: yelling, stomping on an imaginary break, steering wheel grabbing, and just general conflict from the time my kids start the ignition. My poor son was desperate to just drive while I couldn't relinquish control. L had a lot more fun with her more patient father. An ice cream stop and we left Tomorrowland heading back to Fantasyland.

As the sun started to set we stopped at "Dumbo the Flying Elephant," continuing the trend of no lines. At a busier time we might have been able to stop to enjoy the indoor play yard for kids who are waiting in line, but we didn't have lines so the kids and I rode on Dumbo together (my husband hates any kind of circular motion and was happy taking pictures from below). Then we quickly got through the line to "Under the Sea - Journey of the Little Mermaid," a fantastic ride that took us through the entire Disney story of The Little Mermaid. Normally it is a long wait. I think it took us longer to walk from the entrance to the ride than it did for us to do the ride, and we didn't have to wait once we got to the end of the line. From there we finally found a real line - "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh." Not only was the ride itself fun, but the many activities as we waited in line were also a lot of fun for both kids. We almost didn't get them on the ride because they were so distracted by the fun they were having waiting in line. As we were leaving the ride L exclaimed, "I want to come here every day." Yeah, that's not happening, but it was good to know that she was thoroughly enjoying herself. Our ride adventures for the day ended as we rounded a corner and a collection of colorful teacups caught my daughter's eye.

"What are those?" She was instantly mesmerized by the oversized pieces of china.

"They're the teacups. Do you want to ride on them?"


So once again I rode a ride with circles by myself with both kids. I was honestly thrilled. "Mad Hatter Tea" was one of my favorite rides when I went to Disneyland as a nine-year-old. Here I was, 25 years later, enjoying the ride with my own kids with my husband sitting on the sidelines avoiding the centrifugal motion.

We gradually worked two very tired kiddos towards the park entrance, getting stopped by the "Main Street Electrical Parade" and then finding a place to stop and watch "Celebrate the Magic." It's an impressive show with clips from many Disney movies, past and present, telling the story of everything Disney. E didn't make it through the show, quickly falling asleep once we stopped in one place. L, however, was mesmerized, as was I. The most entertaining moment for me was the collective gasp from every little girl in the park when Elsa, from Frozen, was projected on Cinderella's Castle singing "Let It Go." By the time we finally worked our way through the crowds, dropped off the stroller, and met up with my in-laws, we were all exhausted. Exhausted but happy, and I was without regrets.

Say what you will about all things Disney, but it truly is a magical place for kids and adults, and seeing my kids experience it for the first time was awesome. We will go back and we will spend more time there the next time, but we were glad to have that first experience as a family. It was a highlight of our spring break trip and one our kids still talk about. Now we just have to start saving for a full Disney vacation.

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